By Karl Leif Bates
From the top side, it looks like a miniature of the landmark Apple store on Fifth Ave. in Manhattan — a simple glass cube.
But descending the stairs or the glass elevator brings one into the newest, hippest space on campus, the new headquarters of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS). DIBS opened the new underground space at the Levine Science Research Center (LSRC) this week with a reception and lecture.
(The inaugural lecture by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore of University College London, was about her work on the adolescent brain. The peak volume of gray matter in the human brain comes around age 14 and then declines, Blakemore says, but that’s not all a bad thing. It’s the pruning and streamlining of connections that turns a socially obsessed, impulsive teenager into a confident, somewhat-rational adult.)
The 11,000-square-foot space stretches south from the cube and beneath the Blue Front dining hall in a big bay that used to house utilities equipment for LSRC. The ceilings still boast giant pipes marked CHILLED WATER and such, but the rest of it is comfortable, ultra-modern space for brain scientists to communicate, collaborate and learn, with space-saving sliding doors on the offices, and glass garage doors to section off or open up the meeting rooms.
There are actually two levels in the new lair. The mezzanine, ringed by a groovy steel-cable balustrade, provides offices, a conference room, and even a sort of balcony overlooking the main events space where Blakemore spoke.
The main level below is larger and has more staff offices, two teaching labs, and an airy atrium topped with big ring-shaped light fixtures. A divisible “team room” can be used for Bass Connections meetings or other gatherings, and an even larger multi-function space is set up for lectures, but has a flat floor and stackable chairs, so it could do lots of other things too.
There’s even a little room between the teaching labs that might come in handy for storing brains, DIBS Director Michael Platt points out on an introductory tour.
“We haven’t come up with a name yet,” Platt says. “It’s been called the DIBS underground, the Cube…” Standing nearby, psych and neuroscience professor Scott Huettel offers, “We could call it the voxel,” a cubic measure often used in MRI studies.
The orange walls on the lower level offices don’t go all the way to the ceiling, which helps it feel less underground but may require some new telephone and meeting etiquette, says communication director Julie Rhodes.
“We’re thrilled with it,” said DIBS Associate Director Elizabeth “Zab” Johnson, who co-designed the space with Platt and has already relocated her office from LSRC to the still-unnamed new space.